How to Conduct Virtual Roundtables with Zoom Breakout Rooms

Do many of your sessions include roundtables? Often, roundtable sessions follow this format:

  1. One or more speakers lead the session
  2. At various points, speakers break the attendees into small groups to discuss a problem or question
  3. After a short time (five to ten minutes), the speakers bring the small group discussions to a close and reassemble the entire group

This collaboration makes roundtable sessions a popular and powerful way of providing instruction and helping your attendees think through difficult challenges. In a face-to-face environment, you would see roundtable attendees seated at tables of 8, 10, or 12. These tables become the basis of the small group discussions. However, what happens if you have made your event virtual using a platform such as Zoom? The great news is that Zoom has an amazing feature called “Breakout Rooms” that can provide the same experience.

Not to be confused with concurrent breakout sessions, Zoom’s breakout room feature allows you to split a Zoom Meeting into small groups and then reassemble, as in a typical face-to-face roundtable session. Here is how you can get started with this amazing feature.

Before the Session

1. Enable the Breakout Rooms Setting in Zoom

Before the session starts, check that the breakout rooms setting is enabled for your Zoom account:

  1. Sign into the Zoom web portal at
  2. Click on “My Account” in the navigation bar.
  3. Select the “Settings” page in the profile side menu.
  4. Click the “In Meeting (Advanced)” quick link to jump to the advanced in-meeting settings.
  5. Enable “Breakout room”

You can confirm that this is enabled by starting a Zoom Meeting. You should now see “Breakout Rooms” in your Zoom toolbar.

Note: Breakout rooms are only available in Zoom Meetings. Zoom Meetings are designed to be collaborative, like a classroom. Zoom Webinars are not compatible with breakouts as they are designed for few-to-many broadcasts, like a theater. Review the Zoom Meeting vs. Webinar feature comparison chart to see all differences.

2. Install Zoom Client for Meetings

In order to host a meeting with breakout rooms, you must have the Zoom Client installed on your desktop. Go to to download the latest version of Zoom.

Already have Zoom installed? Open the program on your desktop and click on your account icon to view the menu. Select “Check for Updates” to confirm you have the latest version installed. If an update is available, download the latest version before your meeting starts.

During the Session

Manage Breakout Rooms 

Create Rooms 

During the session, the host must create the breakout rooms. In order to create the rooms:

  1. Click “Breakout Rooms”
  2. Set the number of rooms you would like to create
  3. Choose how you would like to assign participants:
    1. Assign automatically: Zoom will split participants evenly into rooms
    2. Assign manually: You will choose which participants you would like in each room
    3. Let participants choose room: Participants can choose a breakout room to join.
  4. Click “Create”

After the rooms have been created, you can modify rooms, change participant assignments and update breakout settings.

Modify Rooms

  • Add Room:  Click “Add Room” at the bottom of the Breakout Rooms window. This will add an empty room to the bottom of your room list. Unless you have chosen to let participants choose their room, you must now click “Assign” to add participants to the new room.
  • Rename Room: If you are letting participants choose their room, you may want to give the rooms names that reflect topics or special interests. Hover over a room in your list to see the action menu. Click “Rename” then type the new name.
  • Delete Room: Hover over a room in your list to see the action menu. Click “Delete.” Click “Yes” to confirm that you want to delete the selected room. Unless you have chosen to let participants choose their room, you must now assign the participants that were in the deleted room to a new room.

Change Participant Assignments

  • Assign or Unassign Participants: If the room is empty, click “Assign” to start adding participants. If the room has participants, click on the number to adjust the assignments. Check names to include them in the room. Uncheck names to remove them from the room.
  • Move Participant: Hover over a participant’s name to view the action menu. Click “Move” and select the name of the room you would like to move them into.
  • Exchanging Participants: Hover over a participant’s name to view the action menu. Click “Exchange” and select the name of the participant you would like to swap with.

Update Breakout Settings

Click “Options” to open the Options menu and modify any of the following settings:

  • Allow participants to choose room: If checked, participants who have joined using the Zoom desktop client or Zoom mobile app will be able to self-select a breakout room to join. Participants who have joined from the browser cannot self-select breakout rooms.
  • Allow participants to return to the main session at any time: If checked, participants can leave the breakout room at any time. Otherwise, the participants will remain in their breakout rooms until the host closes the rooms.
  • Automatically move all assigned participants into breakout rooms: If checked, assigned participants will automatically be placed in to their assigned room when breakout rooms are opened. Otherwise, the assigned participants will be invited to their breakout room and they must choose “Join.”
  • Breakout rooms close automatically after _ minutes: If checked, the breakout rooms will automatically close after the specified number of minutes. Otherwise, the host must close the room manually.
  • Notify me when the time is up: If checked, the host will see a notification when time is up. They can choose “Close now” or “Keep breakout rooms open” if they want to allow the participants more time in their small group discussions.
  • Countdown after closing breakout room and Set countdown timer: If checked, participants will see a countdown indicating how much time they have to rejoin the main meeting. They will remain in their breakout rooms during this countdown until they choose to leave the breakout room.

Once you have enabled all of the settings needed, click “Open All Rooms” to start the small group discussions.

Participate in Breakout Rooms as the Host

Once the breakout rooms are in progress, hosts can join breakout rooms, respond to requests for help, and broadcast messages to all rooms.

Join Breakout Room

Click Join next to the room name to be placed into that breakout room. You go back to the main meeting room at any time by clicking Leave Room, then Leave Breakout Room.

Request for Help 

If an attendee clicks Ask for Help, they can invite the host to join their breakout room. This shows a notification on your screen, displaying the attendee and breakout room name. You can click “Join Breakout Room” to be immediately placed into their breakout room or click “Later” to dismiss the notification and stay in the current room.

Broadcast Messages 

Click “Broadcast Message to All” to send a message to all breakout rooms. This message will show up on all participant screens.

Reopening and Recreating Rooms 

After you create breakout rooms, participant assignments are saved. If you want to reassemble the same groups, simply click “Breakout Rooms” then “Open All Rooms.” If you want to create different rooms, click “Breakout Rooms” then “Recreate.” Recreate allows you to start the process over again, from the initial room creation step. 

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